Talks with Tolkien artists: claraval

13 min read

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MirachRavaia's avatar
By MirachRavaia

This week I talked with Richard claraval - :iconclaraval:, a professional artist who created many Tolkien-themed pictures during his career. You can see a lot of them in his deviantart gallery, but even more at his website

Earerndil Battles Ancalagon by claraval Elbereth by claraval
The Bridge of Khazad-dum by claraval Feanor's Last Stand by claraval
Beorn on the carrock by claraval Luthien's Dance by claraval
Sauron In Barad-dur by claraval Troll Fight by claraval

1. Hello! For the beginning, could you tell us something about yourself?

Hi Mirach, Thank you for the opportunity to tell you about my Tolkien Art. I live in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA. I went to school for fine art, and have created numerous Tolkien and non-Tolkien art for almost 50 years. I've shown my work in museums and galleries throughout the Eastern US, and won awards for both my drawings and sculpture. I did my first Tolkien art in 1971, and keep coming back to this. It is my main focus now.

2. How did you enter Tolkien's world for the first time, and what impression did it leave in you?

A friend told me about LOTR and I first read it as an 18 year old college freshman. It completely blew me away. I felt as if I had taken a journey into another world.

3. What creates the image of Middle-earth in your mind? Is it more influenced by the books or movies, or maybe other artists, and did it change over time or remained the same?

Books. The images Tolkien's words create in my mind are the most vivid and powerful I've ever experienced, and it's been a passion of mine to make them real for a long time. “A knife in the Dark” is from 1977.

A Knife In The Dark by claraval

4. Some of Tolkien's books can be hard to read, being more of history annals than fiction. Do you enjoy the scholarly side of studying Tolkien's world as well?

I do enjoy the Silmarillion and other more difficult books. They contain many good stories, and as an artist wonderful images to capture. However, for me, LOTR is a masterpiece. The high romantic style, power and excitement are unparalleled in anything else I've read.

5. Who is your favourite Tolkien character and why?

Gandalf. He was simultaneously the chief mastermind in the war against Sauron, a foot soldier and single combat warrior. He had great integrity and strength in refusing the ring. Here is my “Gandalf the Mastermind”.

6. Are there some topics in Tolkien's works that you are particularly passionate about?


7. Now, could you tell us something about you and art? When did you start doing it as a professional, and who or what influenced your style?

I drew comic books as a teenager, and the dynamism of Jack Kirby influenced me then. I started doing serious work at about 20, and was first influenced by Michelangelo, and then many others -- other renaissance people, modernists -- Pollock, Arp, and for my Tolkien work especially the etchings, Rembrandt and Goya. Here is an etching inspired by Rembrandt, “Gandalf in Moria”. It has the deep chiaroscuro of Baroque art.

Gandalf In Moria by claraval

8. What do you consider your greatest success in art?

Internally, a series of etchings I did as a college sophomore. This was my first break through and showed me what I was capable of. Objectively, a juror's award for a sculpture in the Associated Artists of Pittsburgh annual show in 2010. Neither of these is Tolkien related, however the etchings showed me the potential of this medium for capturing his images.

9. How do you decide what to draw and what's your creative process from picking the theme to finishing a picture?

For a while I chose whatever scene I was interested in at a particular time. In general I gravitate to the most dramatic scenes, though sometimes I do the “softer” ones. Now I am doing suites on various things: Beren and Luthien; The Hobbit; The most evil characters; Most powerful scenes, etc. (Here is my, “Luthien Enchants Carcharoth”.)

Luthien Enchants Carcharoth by claraval

My process starts with reading a scene several times and envisioning it in my mind. This is by far the most important thing. I then make small sketches of this working out the composition, poses, background etc. I use photos of myself and friends to understand lighting and poses, and look at images from the internet for information on what the various things in the picture look like; for example wolves when I was doing Carcharoth, etc. (Study of Carcharoth – Wolf1)

Wolf1 by claraval

I do not draw the finished piece from the photos, but do quick studies of them and then translate these into the finished piece (the etching plate for my current work). My focus is on capturing the powerful, vivid images Tolkien conjures in my mind and I do not want to get trapped in copying photos. I love spontaneity in art and am balancing this with mimesis. This is one reason why I favor drawing and making etchings – you can see the artist’s hand at work. Just FYI, etching is a multi-step, non-digital, non-mass produced process involving prints entirely created by the artist. Here is a good intro if anyone is interested.…

10. What other book or movies (or anything else) inspire you to create art, and why?

The human figure has always been my greatest visual inspiration. It can be very beautiful, and, as it is us, it has the most potential to express emotions. Classical music has also been a huge inspiration. Here is a figure inspired etching, “Prometheus”.

Prometheus by claraval

11. What art technique is your favorite? Do you rather keep to the art techniques and styles you are familiar with, or do you experiment with new ones as well?

I have experimented with many mediums and styles over the years. Drawing however is my favourite, and I’ve always loved etching (a type of drawing) from my first college class in 1971. It provides the finest lines, and richest ink, and most potential for powerful chiaroscuro of any medium. Here is a charcoal drawing, “Glorfindel and the Balrog”.

Glorfindel and the Balrog by claraval

12. Do you have some tips and tricks you would like to share with the other artists?

Produce millions. Start with inspiration and continue it all the way through. Capture the passion, don’t try to make something perfect.

13. Could you tell us, which
- Tolkien illustration you are most proud of?

My Balrog etching perhaps. It captures the image I and others have of this monster better than the film version. And some have said it’s the closest to their image they’ve ever seen. Here it is, “Balrog”.

Balrog by claraval

- original picture or picture from other fandom you are most proud of?

No fandom, but perhaps my “Beowulf and Grendel” etching. Beowulf was an important story for JRRT.

Beowulf by claraval

- picture was hardest to paint?

Hard to say. “Eowyn and the Witchking” was difficult – tricky composition.

14. Is there something else you would like to tell to the fans of Tolkien and your art?

Just to please visit my site. And let me know what you think! Also I have a Fb group if you want to join.…

Thank you for your time and answers!

Coding by Felizias Drawings by ebe-kastein Borders by PhoenixWildfire
© 2019 - 2021 MirachRavaia
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Lyriel-MoonShadow's avatar
Awesome interview! Love his art!
aunjuli's avatar

Thank you for sharing this interview and works! @claraval is fantastic!

claraval's avatar

Thanks for your kind words aunjuli! I have a site and could send a link if you are interested?

aunjuli's avatar
MirachRavaia's avatar
I'm glad you enjoyed the interview!
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